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Review: Food and family provide pleasing flavors in sincere Chinese drama ‘Fagara’

Li Xiaofeng, Megan Lai, Sammi Cheng, ‘Fagara’
Li Xiaofeng, from left, Megan Lai and Sammi Cheng in the movie “Fagara.”
(Chinalion Film Distribution Inc.)

You may never get the distinctive tingly sensation watching “Fagara” as from ingesting the spice it’s named for — also known as Sichuan pepper — but writer/director Heiward Mak’s film is nevertheless a sincere, sensitive entry in that niche genre of family drama scenarios involving culinary legacy.

When Hong Kong travel agent Acacia (Sammi Cheng) learns of the death of her estranged father (Kenny Bee), she also learns of the existence of two half-sisters: androgynous Taiwanese pool player Branch (Megan Lai), who has a strained relationship with her status-conscious mother (Liu Jueichi), and bubbly, orange-haired internet fashionista Cherry (Li Xiaofeng), who lives in China with her grandmother. Though they bond quickly in grief over an itinerant, varyingly thoughtful and aloof dad, what to do about his ramshackle, neighborhood-beloved hot pot restaurant is what opens wounds in all three daughters about their respective dreams and pressures across work, family and relationships.

The trio’s respective home regions suggest a blueprint for something politically allegorical about modern Chinese women, but Mak’s sentimentally scored, elegant tears-with-laughter approach is more comfortable using dad’s unrecorded fagara soup base recipe (and its role in possibly saving the restaurant) as a metaphor for the mystery of family bonds, than anything that distinguishes them geographically. But with many fine performances — notably from Cheng and Lai — and an ending that’s an appealingly feminist take on what one expects from these tales, “Fagara” has enough commingling flavors to feel like a dramatic meal.

'Fagara'
In Cantonese and Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles
Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 13, AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park; AMC Puente Hills 20, City of Industry


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